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Environmental/Design Research: 
Concepts, Methods and Values 

Supported by 

The Design Arts Program of the 

National Endowment for the Arts 

Environmental Design Research 



and Values 


Marguerite Villecco 


Michael Brill 

Book Design: 

Frankina Design Associates 


This paper is a modest attempt to describe the conflu- 
ence of concepts, methods and values that define what 
environmental/design research is and what environ- 
mental research does. It is written for those doing 
environmental/design research, or interested in doing it 
or in using its results. 

The purpose of the paper is to provide a useful 
reference, or framework, for describing environmen- 
tal/design research. It should provoke discussion and 
thought, whether in agreement or disagreement, and 
become useful to those formulating their own view- 
points, concepts and arguments. Environmental/ design 
research is an emergent discipline, youthful enough to 
warrant continued discussion of its characteristics while 
nonetheless achieving results. 

It is not the intent of this paper to justify environmen- 
tal/design research, although the paper does contain 
some examples of such arguments, nor is its purpose to 
sell or promote environmental/design research as a 
field. We do hope to make some of its characteristics and 
concerns more understandable, to recognize common- 
ality in its diversity and thus to facilitate its 

The paper represents the personal opinions of its authors 
and is not to be construed as the policy of its sponsors. In 
writing the paper, however, the authors have received 
the support, comments and reviews of many people, 
some of whom consider themselves environmental/ de- 
sign researchers, as well as architects, environmental 
psychologists, anthropologists, landscape architects, in- 
dustrial designers, engineers, historians, and public and 
private administrators. 

The following individuals in particular have contributed 
to this work and deserve acknowledgement that some 
of their views and concerns are included in the paper. 
We recognize that not all will agree with our conclusions, 
but a clear and focused argument is itself valuable. 

First, we would like to thank Michael Pittas, Director of 
the Design Arts Program of the National Endowment for 
the Arts, who supported the development of this paper 
and the Belmont Research Retreat, which provided its 
initial impetus, and Frederick Krimgold, of the National 
Science Foundation, who co-sponsored the Belmont 
Research Retreat. 

Besides the authors, participants at the Belmont Research 
Retreat contributed to this paper by comment and 
review. They include: Robert Bechtel, Lynn Beedle, 
Richard Bender, John Bennett, Niels Diffrient, Leonard 
Duhl, John Eberhard, Charles Eastman, John B. Jackson, 
Ralph Knowles, Gary Moore, Constance Perin, and 
Raymond Studer. 

Federal observers at the Belmont Research Retreat, 
many of whom also reviewed draft copies of this paper, 
included John Cable (Department of Energy), Harold 
Cannon (National Endowment for the Humanities), 
David Dibner (General Services Administration), Robert 
Dillon (National Institute for Building Science), Andrew 
Euston (Department of Housing and Urban Develop- 
ment), Robert Shibley (then of the Department of 
Defense and now the Department of Energy), Francis 
Ventre (National Bureau of Standards), and Richard 
Wakefield (National Institute of Mental Health). 

Others offering valuable comments have included Mort 
Karp, Richard Krauss, Jeanne McFarland, Charles Mas- 
terson, Michael Murtha, Joseph Ouye, and Bernard 

Other papers have been written in attempts to clarify 
and define what environmental/ design research is and 
does; few have received such broad support. We hope 
the results will take arguments to the next level. 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2013 

Environmental/Design Research: Concepts, Methods and Values 

nvironmental/design research is defined by a conflu- 

ence of concepts, methods and values appropriate to 

complex problem-solving. Its major concern is the rela- 
tionship between people and the designed environment, 

and its implications for the quality of life. 

Its scope is broad, drawing from the concepts and 
methods of both science and art, including the physical 
sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities. And its 
solutions are more diverse than those of a simple 
discipline. If you take a problem to an architect, a 
building will result; if you take a problem to a lawyer, 
action within a legal framework will result. The selection 
of the discipline itself is implicitly the selection of a 
problem's solution. But environmental/design research 
does not assume a solution. It examines a problem 
without a fixed solution bias, welcoming diversity and 
human or environmental complexity and offers the 
potential of both interdisciplinary investigation and 
interdisciplinary results. Its products range from methods, 
policies and processes to physical design. 

Environmental/design research, however, does have a 
preferred area of solution, one in which the design of, 
use of, and policies about the designed environment are 
seen as important determinants of the quality of life. The 
scale of concern is for that which is both designed and 


natural and ranges from a household product to a 
whole region, with cities, spaces and buildings some- 
where in the middle. A critical concept for definition of 
environmental/design research is: If the research does 
not include exploration of needs from, perceptions of, or 
behavioral or emotional responses to environmental 
form and phenomena, it is not environmental/design 

The twin goals of environmental/ design research are to: 
(1) develop useful information to improve the fit be- 
tween the designed environment and people's per- 
formance, satisfaction and well-being and (2) make the 
processes of planning, design, building, management, 
and use of designed environments into a "learning 
system" by addition of a systematic in-use evaluation 
component. Environmental/ design research is not a 
new, or separate discipline, but a method of seeing and 
a method for transforming the processes of existing 
disciplines into ones more responsive to the unique 
issues associated with each designed environmental 

ecause environmental/design research always reas- 

sesses the "problem-as-given," it develops problem 
statements that do not automatically generate one type of 
solution, and that are without bias towards a single 

discipline's normal repertoire of solutions. 

As noted earlier, many disciplines assume problem 
methods and solutions, but many problems in our 
society are recurrent precisely because they cannot be 
solved along specific disciplinary lines. 

The problems remain unsolved, frequently because they 
fail to attain "legitimate" status within a single discipline. 
Such problems have often been described as "wicked 
problems" because they defy single-disciplinary solution 
and are not "well-behaved." 

This non-disciplinary definition of problems, where so- 
lutions are developed that fit the problem (and not the 

discipline), demands multi- or interdisciplinary explora- 
tion. This, in turn, brings an extensive repertoire of 
methods into play from what we may call hard science, 
soft science, and the design, planning and engineering 
disciplines themselves. 

Many methods may be used in approaching a problem, 
and they often have different values and assumptions 
underlying them. Environmental/design research affects 
designed and used environments, which in turn affect 
how people use, inhabit, or are exposed to them. As an 
endeavor of many disciplines, with a wide range of 
values, its value base is not as easily known or 
categorized as those of so-called normative disciplines. It 
is also a relatively youthful discipline, without a single, 
accepted theoretical basis. Because of these qualities, 
environmental/design research should make its operat- 
ing values and assumptions as explicit as possible for 
each project, so that those who receive its products and 
act upon them can know the context of their develop- 
ment and assess the range of cases in which the work 
may be applicable. 

These values and assumptions frequently emphasize a 
concern for the environment's primary users and reflect 
their objectives, for appropriate solutions are always 
defined in terms of augmenting human performance, 
satisfaction, and well-being, and attempt to be indepen- 
dent of disciplinary institutional or procedural con- 
straints. These values, in themselves, generate research 
and development activity into the removal of, or relief 
from, such constraints. 

Developing appropriate solutions independent of such 
constraints allows a wide range of solutions to be seen as 
legitimate outcomes of environmental/ design research. 
It means that the rescheduling of people's space-related 
activities is as legitimate as designing a building pro- 
totype, and that the development of policy legislation or 
preparation of testimony is as legitimate as evaluation of 
furniture in use, or the development of new criteria for 
the generation of physical form. But environmental/ de- 
sign research always starts with a problem linked to 
environmental or design concerns. It may end with 
solutions that affect physical form, as well as ones that 
manage or alter how people use that form without 
physical alteration. 


yy henever design is done poorly, when intended pur- 
poses are not met and/or new problems are created, we 

incur human and/or economic costs. Some of these are 

attributable to trying to solve the wrong problem, others to 
poor solutions to the right problem, and still others to the 
unintended consequences of design, design policy, and 

their use. 

Some costs are very obvious, such as a set of outdoor 
steps in a public place that are badly proportioned and 
poorly lit, which becomes the target of several costly 
accident lawsuits. Some costs are less obvious, such as 
the poorly balanced power tools that fatigue the hand 
and arm, requiring frequent rest periods, or the poorly 
planned hospital that forces its highly-paid medical staff 
to walk excessive distances, using time and energy 
non-productively These are not so obvious but, once 
understood, are calculable. 

Other costs generated by poor design are not obvious or 
easily calculable, but are very real to those who bear 
them. The elderly frequently avoid certain activities 
because they are risky They may avoid using public 
transit in winter because the bus stops don't protect them 
from the wind, or they may avoid shopping centers 
because the parking lots make them feel vulnerable to 
assault and theft. This avoidance of risk by the elderly 
denies them activities that can enhance the quality of 
their lives; it is a cost they must pay 

Some of these problems may not seem costly or 
catastrophic. But the frequency of their occurrence, and 
the fact that designed environments, products and 
processes are pervasive in our lives results in high 
aggregate costs. For example, accidents in homes alone, 
involving only a half-dozen architectural elements, cost 
the nation approximately $3 billion each year, not 
including the pain and suffering of the injured. Both the 


hard-dollar costs and the personal pain and suffering 
costs reduce the quality of life. 

Some costs can never be calculated, nor made drama- 
tic, although their influence may be great. The aesthetic 
bleakness and inappropriate functioning, physically and 
psycho-socially, of most housing occupied by the poor is 
incalculable, but surely significant. 

It can be made clear, then, that there are real costs to 
environments and products that either do not achieve 
their primary purposes or that create unanticipated 
problems. The cost argument, both human and eco- 
nomic, points to a positive public value of environmen- 
tal/design research. The following illustrations augment 
this point in greater detail. 


Office Exemplar 

y£| number of economic analyses have been made of 
hospitals, offices and housing that strongly Indicate that 
the costs generated by the "misfit" are far greater than 

costs of more appropriate and supportive design. 

A current, major, environmental/design research study 
of human performance in office buildings, coupled with 
work done in the 1960's by the National Bureau of 
Standards, describes the relationships between office 
environments and human performance in the following 

The office building, its subsystems, furnishings and 
equipment are the environment in which office work is 
accomplished as part of a larger system whose goal is 
the accomplishment of a mission. (The mission of this 
system is probably something like "adding value to 
information within a managed decision system. This 
larger system includes operating energy rules, informa- 
tion, social structures, management, maintenance of all 
systems and people, as well as the building, furnishings 
and equipment. The combined costs of all of these is the 
total cost of achieving the mission. 

The ratio of people costs to building-related costs is 
about 14:1 over a 25-year period. More precisely the 
physical environment accounts for 2.8 percent of the 
cost, and operation and maintenance for 3.6 percent, 
while people's salaries account for 93.6 percent of the 


mission costs. Given these ratios, it becomes clear that to 
the degree that office environments affect the worker's 
job satisfaction and performance, supportive environ- 
mental design may have strong multiplier effects. 

The following table shows how the three basic mission 
costs for the office over one, ten and 25-year periods can 
be calculated in relation to the total cost of doing work. 

Percentages of Total Cost of Achieving the Mission of the Office 

(calculated in constant $) 

Mission Cost Component 

Times Frames for Costs In Years 

1 year 

10 years 

25 years 

1 . Construction, furnishings 
& equipment 




2. Operations 8c maintenance 




3. Office workers' salaries 




Assumptions for the table include the following: 

Space per worker: 165 sq. ft., including support space. Source: 

BOMA 1976-79 reports and Canadian Department of Public 
Worlds National Survey 

— Construction cost: $50/sq. ft., National average January 1980. 

— Furnishings: $ 1 ,500/worker, estimated; complete replacement 
after 1 years. 

— Energy costs: $1.02/sq. ft., increasing at 15%/year. 

— Maintenance and operating costs (excluding energy): $2.53/sq. 
ft., increasing at 8%/year. Source: BOMA. 

— Salaries: Assume engineering technician, grade 4 at $15,221. 

Given these large ratios of 30:1 between people and 
capital costs, it is clear that if there is even a slight causal 
relationship between the design of office environments 
and the productivity of office workers and managers, the 
economics of appropriate and supportive design are 
very attractive. Numerous studies have, in fact, shown 
that worker satisfaction with the work environment is 
always a component of overall job satisfaction and job 


involvement, which are directly linked to turnover, 
absenteeism and grievance actions, which, in turn, affect 
the productivity of an organization. Recent environmen- 
tal/design research has found that job performance itself 
is related to certain environmental qualities, such as 
privacy, lighting, and furniture performance. This same 
research also finds useful and surprising patterns in 
phenomena such as flexibility in the office, where it 
appears that 75 percent of the people don't change 
locations in the office at all, while 25 percent of them do, 
moving four times a year. Because these moves are not 
easy to make, job satisfaction is lower than for the 
non-movers. These findings become more important 
when viewed against the overall level of productivity in 
the office workplace, now at its lowest ever. 

Most traditional efforts to halt lagging productivity have 
placed environmental change low on the list of priorities 
and have instead emphasized job redesign, flextime, 
industrial democracy new management styles, and the 
introduction of new communications equipment. Each of 
these is an important factor and each has environmental 
implications, although these are seldom recognized. 
Environmental/ design research broadens the range of 
issues and the range of solutions to accomodate these 
and other factors. 

There are still questions to be explored about the design 
of the office workplace, whose answers will strongly 
augment what is now known and hence the range of 
potential treatments. Some of these researchable ques- 
tions are: 

How important is privacy to the conduct of 

office work? And does having privacy re- 
duce opportunities for interaction and 

How can workers and managers be helped 

to understand that their environment is a 
manipulable tool and not just a place where 
tools are used? 

In offices, what do "knowledge workers" do 

that can be measured? What instruments 
could measure productivity of professionals, 
executives and administrators? 

What specific aspects of physical environ- 
ment most increase or decrease productivity 
and job satisfaction? 


How should research results be organized as 

specific guidelines to direct workplace de- 
sign, management, and policy? 

How can programming and design tools be 

developed that use research and aid the 
planning and design of workplaces? 

How do you provide for the development 

and testing of alternative designs and design 
concepts for office buildings, interior systems, 
furnishings, equipment and the manage- 
ment of these? 

The office exemplar is, of course, only one kind of 
researchable issue appropriate to environmental/design 
research, and of demonstrable public value. 

| here are many other types of environments, users and 
issues, involving numerous design processes, policies 
and evaluation procedures, which are candidates for 
environmental/design research because they pose critical 
problems, obvious misfits, or a clear capacity to reduce 

the quality of life. 

For some of these, basic research is needed to define 
critical issues and resources, such as the relationships 
between the built and natural environment; others 
benefit from applied research, with its focus on solving 
specific problems. In some cases, the methods and 
criteria for research are themselves the topics of re- 
search, as are inquiries into the nature of the design 
process or the development of intervention strategies on 
behalf of innovation. The development or discovery of 
knowledge, the advancement of the state of the art, and 
the definition, as well as the resolution, of issues are all 
within the purview of environmental/design research. 


Environmental/Design Research Methods 

As discussed earlier the common subjects of environ- 
mental/design research are the reciprocal relationships 
between people, the environment, the process by which 
the environment is designed, made, used, and main- 
tained. It also concerns the implications of these relation- 
ships for the quality of life. In order to accomplish its 
objectives, design research borrows, develops, adjusts 
and uses any methods that "work" to support a systema- 
tic approach to complex problem-solving. The nature of 
design research problems is such that the more com- 
plex, or "wicked," the problem, the less appropriate are 
available methods. In this sense, environmental/design 
research must be experimental in its methodological 

Environmental/design research uses traditional methods 
of scientific research, but is not wholly defined by them. 
It uses precision, analysis and quantification where 
appropriate, but uses qualitative methods as well. It 
strives for accuracy even where precision is not possible 
in the problem statement, research methods or results. It 
is as concerned with what is measured as it is with how 
exactly; in this sense, the term "accuracy" takes on 
qualitative meaning, while precision remains quantita- 
tive. For environmental/design research, accuracy is 
critical to the results, even where levels of precision may 
vary in the process, usually as a result of its real- world 


nvironmental/design research must be internally con- 
sistent, as is science. And, if another researcher were 
given the same information, assumptions, and value set, 

the results should be replicable. 

But the traditional hypothesis-testing approach to re- 
search may be inadequate because the act of design 
needs answers to so many hypotheses at the same time 
that the traditional methods would take inordinately 
long and it is unlikely that they could be applied evenly 
Therefore, more holistic methods and more interdiscipli- 
nary methods must be developed to test these mul- 
titudes of hypotheses. This development of methods for 
environmental/ design research is an important explora- 
tion in its own right. 

Environmental/design research nonetheless shares sig- 
nificant parts of the same paradigm with science. It may 
have and often does have tests for reliability replicability 
validity and sensitivity 

Similarly to design, environmental/design research 
deals with sets of problems that lie in the realm of direct 
experience; it has a sensory base and an intimate 
connection to the quality of life. Yet it can be distin- 
guished from design and the distinction is critical for 
those proposing, doing, using or assessing research. The 
distinctions can also lead to their eventual unity where 
the design process encompasses the learning and 
evaluative components of research over time. 

Environmental/design research can usually be distin- 
guished from design practice in a number of significant 
ways. Design is unique; its products are singular; and its 
methods are less important than its results. Design is 
product-oriented; it is justified as the solution to a 
problem, and the problem-solving method need not be 
replicated for evaluation. Design practice frequently 
welcomes intuitive leaps as it seeks to resolve the 
complexities of program and context into a single form. 
Its values are implicit in its product and its evaluation is 
qualitative, as well as quantitative. 


Environmental/design research, on the other hand, is 
concerned with the frameworks for all the activities that 
affect design, allowing evaluation and design to take 
place within a rational context. Research is process- as 
well as product-oriented. The process must be replica- 
ble and its methods documented as a basis for evalua- 
tion of each research project's internal validity Research 
takes a specialized view of the world in order to push at 
limits and to reach new levels of understanding. It is, in 
that sense, exclusive, rather than inclusive, by nature. 
And, while intuitive leaps used to create knowledge are 
an accepted or even preferred method in design, in 
research, intuition must be tested for its utility against 
specific research objectives. Environmental/design re- 
search is not singular, but concerned with sets of cases 
and generic application; it must be generalizable to 
more than a unique situation. 


ithin this context, values become a critical issue and 

environmental/design researchers feel that they must be 

stated explicitly, not because such researchers have a 

higher moral purpose, but because they bear a greater 
responsibility; the results of their work can profoundly 

affect how people live. 

And often these users are unaware of the implications, 
coercion, and pervasiveness of design in their lives. 
Design is by nature implicitly value-laden; its stated 
purpose to seek excellence within constraints and "to 
improve" is a consistent objective. Science has always 
had two faces, that which strives for total objectivity and 
that which places emphasis on values. As the debate 
about genetic research illustrates, the moral issues sur- 
rounding scientific inquiry are becoming more critical. 
Researchers must always seek to balance the long term 
versus short term consequences of their work and to 
make "intertemporal" choices. An explicit statement of 
values makes such choices more understandable. As an 
emergent discipline, environmental/design research re- 
quires (if only ethically) a statement of assumptions, and 
opinions about its generalization and limitations. 


Environmental/Design Research Model 

Below is a simple, descriptive model drawn to provide 
an image of environmental/ design research and its 
relationship to design practice and scientific research. 
The model is intended to be useful as an hypothesis to 
test, rather than as an assertion. It describes a range of 
environmental/design research approaches, using both 
design and science as a medium. It also tries to set some 
boundaries, so we may start to define what is not 
environmental/ design research. 








The model is methodologically, not topically based. 
Virtually any topic may be studied within it that relates 
people, the designed environment and changes in the 
quality of life that result from the two converging. This 
constraint necessarily excludes most research where 
improvement of a specific technology is an end in itself 
and where the human, qualitative implications are 
secondary or beyond the scope of the work. Excluded 


for this paper's definition of environmental/ design re- 
search, depending on how their hypotheses are framed, 
would be research projects focusing on the mechanics 
and materials of building, computer hardware research; 
research about design organizations and professional 
activities; and research primarily for marketing or stylistic 

More examples of research that may or may not be 
included in the model will be given later. Areas of 
research that are "excluded" may themselves be very 
important concerns and deserving of support, but they 
fall outside of this particular definition. The more de- 
tailed model shown on the opposite page helps to 
further describe these boundaries. 





(7 '^\ 


' V4- 











— - 









(V\ ^ 


















Model Graphics by Lance Brown of Brown and Bee, Architects and Urban Designers. 


This more detailed model suggests a number of linear 
relationships characterizing the spectrum of environ- 
mental/design research approaches, with a more or less 
scientific approach on the left, moving towards a more 
design-oriented approach on the right. Just outside the 
boundaries of environmental design research are pure 
science below and traditional design practice above. 
The linear aspect of the model should not imply that an 
environmental/design research project must encompass 
all six steps. Few projects will. Nor is sequence necessar- 
ily implied. 

legitimate products of environmental/design research 
can occur at all points in the model and fully useful and 

complete products may be produced at several points. 

(These products are indicated on the model. In addition, 
a key for text references to the model is on p. 22.) 

Therefore, an environmental/ design research project 
can be accomplished wholly on the "scientific" end of 
the methodological spectrum (done at point #1 on the 
model and documented at point #2), or wholly on the 
design end, with the testing of specific research criteria 
and the development of specific formal implications at 
point #4. Results can be presented as evaluation 
research conclusions (point #2) or they may be trans- 
lated into the specific vocabulary of the user as policy 
management, or design criteria (point #3), or they may 
be presented as form itself. 

The model also includes the development of thedries, 
methods, models and procedures (point #5) for evaluat- 
ing the impact of natural phenomena and design 
objects and environment and, at point #6, for generat- 
ing and evaluating form in response to specific research 
criteria. Here may also be included research into 
design/planning methods and processes to develop the 
information necessary to solve a problem economically 
elegantly systematically and ethically 

The products of environmental/design research, which 
are produced at a number of points, can be used to 
produce design and environmental management pol- 


icy predictive models of designed environments as it 
they were in use and, of course, designs for buildings, 
places and objects for social purposes. These are the 
major applications of the research. The products of these 
applications can then become subjects for evaluation 
and research closing a broad feedback loop. 

| he research model ranges from more traditional scien- 
tific approaches to environmental/design research, on the 
left, to design methodologies, policies and predictive 

models on the right. 

Within a research mode, the right side of the model 
(design as a test of research hypotheses or other 
research-related criteria) is perhaps less well understood 
and less well-developed in theory and method than the 
left. The more conventionally scientific, or left, end of the 
model is primarily analytical, where the whole is 
frequently (although not necessarily) broken down into 
constituent parts in order to increase understanding. This 
approach begins with the analysis of places in use (or 
predictive models or policies) and ends, usually with 
results expressed in words, formulae, and diagrams. 

The right side of the methodological spectrum describes 
a synthetic approach to research, where the process of 
design becomes a research methodology under con- 
trolled circumstances. The design mode of research may 
actually result in physical form, although it may also 
result in predictive models, theory or policy Whereas the 
scientific paradigm was primarily analytical, the design 
paradigm uses form as a medium to synthesize, in some 
cases, results greater than the sum of its parts. Its purpose 
is to explore and test the formal implications of specific 
research-based criteria by a replicable process, to 
develop a theoretical and methodological basis for 
design, and to explore their perceptual and formal 
implications and relationships. 

Design itself can thus be used as a method for environ- 
mental/design research projects. When so used, the 
number of variables it deals with are fewer than in 
conventional practice, and carefully selected to support 


the research plan. Likewise, the constraints brought to 
design-within-research are more artificial than in con- 
ventional practice. An example of such use would be to 
use building designs as "subjects," with designers using 
their normative design process, but controlling program 
or other variables in systematic ways. In this way the 
design process can be translated into a learning process, 
combining both theory and practice for evaluation. 

The results of research include information useful to 
design, management, policy and research itself, but they 
are usually presented in the language of persons doing 
the research and thus more suitable for other re- 
searchers than for the users of research. Documentation 
of research results for peer use and evaluation is a 
traditional and valued mode of communication for 
researchers. However, since the products of environmen- 
tal/design research are varied, can occur at many 
points, and can be applied directly to policy model 
development and design, research results always re- 
quire translation into a forum or medium that facilitates 
its use and application. Designers, in particular, learn 
about and use information in a different way than most 
researchers present it, with the result that important 
environmental/design research is frequently not used, or 
is used poorly or is used wrongly by designers. 

I information is a term implying usefulness; if the purpose 
of the research is to generate information, the presenta- 
tion of results in useable form is critical. 

In some cases, translation may only require a change in 
the medium or mode of presentation. In other cases, 
more substantive work may be involved in making 
research results meaningful to a specific user group, 
including the further development of specific aspects of 
the research itself. The translation process can itself be an 
area of research concern and may be focused at any 
point in the process where a result can be applied as 
policy development, modeling, or design. 


Frameworks for Environmental/Design Research 

Some illustrations of what may and may not be consid- 
ered environmental/design research by this paper's 
criteria will serve to clarify its concepts and concerns. 

I m Environmental/design research can be distinguished 
from other kinds of related research by the requirement 
that it emphasize the relationship between people and 
the designed environment, and its implications for the 
quality of life. 

If, for example, it is proposed to analyze the seismic 
resistance of alternative structural systems for buildings in 
order to develop guidelines for their use, this would not 
fall under environmental/design research as here de- 
fined, but under building or construction research. If, on 
the other hand, it is proposed to study the cognitive 
images people have of the stability of various kinds of 
structures, this would qualify as environmental/design 
research. So would research that examines human 
responses to building sway and vibration as a criteria for 
advancing the state of the art of sway damping system 
design. The process of selecting a structural system for a 
particular building, however, is not environmental de- 
sign research; it is an element of design practice. 

Another example can be drawn from the area of 
industrial design. If it is proposed to develop a new chair 


to complete a line of office furniture, this is an applica- 
tion of market research and not environmental/ design 
research as here defined. The development and testing 
of new concepts of seating that assure health and 
comfort over prolonged periods of time, however, could 
be an environmental/ design research project. 

Research about design practice may or may not be 
considered environmental/ design research, depending 
on how it is framed. A project to survey liability suits over 
the past ten years would not be environmental/design 
research. But a project to test the hypothesis that concern 
about liability has made design practice conservative 
and inhibited innovation could be developed as an 
environmental/design research project and might in- 
clude the survey of liability suits mentioned earlier. In this 
case, however, the survey would be a tool in developing 
a broader theory of design and not an end. 

As the previous example illustrates, environmental/ de- 
sign research need not deal with a physical product, 
and might likely deal with the development of theory 
methods, and models relating to policy management, 
organization, evaluation, or process. 

j/_ Environmental/design research can be distinguished 
from design practice, although good design practice will 

effect its integration into the design process. 

A project that seeks to make a learning system out of the 
design process may be considered environmental/de- 
sign research if it is based on systematic and replicable 
criteria capable of being evaluated. In this case, the 
practice of design becomes an element of the research 
design, and the purposes of the research are related to 
intervention, innovation, and evaluation strategies con- 
sistent with the objectives of design practice. An exam- 
ple would be the development of strategies to minimize 
vandalism in a large-scale building program, where the 
results of the research would be integrated into the 
design process of specific facilities as criteria that would 
inform and modify the design process over time. 

Environmental designers, in fact, often include a systems 
analysis of institutions, decision procedures, mandates 


and constraints in order to design products that fit or 
alter that process to fit products with which it normally 
doesn't deal. 

In the case of environmental/design research relating to 
physical products, the following example may be useful 
in distinguishing design practice from research propos- 
als. If an architectural firm were to propose research 
about natural light for a particular project, this would not 
be an adequate description of an environmental/design 
research as here defined. Although the effort might 
include a literature search, training in appropriate 
techniques, and site visits to similar projects to expand 
the firm's knowledge base, its purpose is to apply, not 
generate knowledge. There is no research design; the 
results are directed to a single building and firm and not 
the generic advancement of the field. 

If, on the other hand, it was proposed that natural light, 
with its variable quality and implied connection to the 
outdoors, could improve productivity and job satisfac- 
tion, and that research was needed to test this hypothesis 
and to develop its formal implications, this could be 
considered an area of environmental/design research. 

^J m Environmental/design research can deal with the art 

as well as the science of design. 

Environmental/design research strives to generate 
knowledge useful to design and design policy in order 
to improve the quality of life. This raises issues about 
some of the inquiries relating specifically to the art of 
design and, more specifically the role of formalist 
controversies within architecture today The ultimate 
purpose of art may be described in such qualitative 
terms as raising the levels of human aspirations, spirit 
and perceptions and thus improving our lives. Does it 
follow then that an inquiry into the artistic elements of 
architecture is therefore environmental/design re- 
search? For purposes of this paper, the answer is that 
these concerns can indeed be structured into such a 
research project and that aesthetic theory may be a 
legitimate topic for research. 

Where the art of place-making, broadly defined, and 
the generation of knowledge are concerns for research, 
the research must exhibit clear, systematic, and doc- 


umented procedures. This does not mean that the 
design process itself must be wholly rationalized to 
exclude intuition (however defined), but that the re- 
search design, or framework for inquiry must be rational 
and explicit. Within this structure, the following example 
provides clarification. 

If it is proposed to do research about all the kinds of 
windows used in architecture through the ages and to 
develop a visual typology of forms from them, this would 
not be considered environmental/ design research 
within the framework of this paper. This kind of inquiry 
although potentially very useful, does not generate, but 
rather catalogs, information; there is no research design 
or hypothesis and no objective proof. It also does not 
include, as a concern, the human factors or uses 
associated with windows. If on the other hand, one 
proposes doing research to test the hypothesis that 
certain window designs have cultural and functional 
associations that provide building users with a sense of 
security function and delight that can compensate for 
other economies of building design, this could be 
structured as an environmental/design research project. 
In order to do the work, it might be necessary to 
develop a typology of window designs as a basis for 
determining the design criteria that have the desired 
impacts and to develop new criteria for window design, 
but such a typology is part of the research methodology 
and not the objective of the research. 

In another example, an environmental/ design research 
project might investigate the concept of symmetry as it 
inheres in nature — its contours perceived by man — and 
use this as a basis for developing a mathematically- 
based aesthetic of the environment and the beautiful. In 
this case, part of the work would be to systematically test 
and translate such highly abstract concepts as left-right 
opposition, balance, centering, inversion, and the sym- 
metries of expansion, progression and duplication into a 
basis for evaluating and generating modern form with 
specified perceptual connotations. Yet as always, the 
research design, including methods and procedures, 
should be replicable and the validity of the conclusions 


Lf m Environmental/design research includes basic, as 

well as applied, research. 

Basic research, unlike applied research, cannot be 
justified on the basis of specific problem-solving; its 
application may be unknown. Its primary justification is 
the generation of knowledge and the discovery of 
phenomena, processes and systems that are potentially 
significant to the quality function, process, organization 
and theory of design. 

It does not follow, however, that basic research is vague 
in conception or that it lacks structure in its development, 
procedures and validation. Examples of basic research 
in environmental/design research include the hypothe- 
sis that the quality of life can be enhanced by design 
that exhibits differentiation by orientation in response to 
the daily and seasonal migrations of the sun, similar to 
natural structures. Such measures as urban legibility 
variety and richness of form, and human and energy- 
performance may be considered. The concept of 
rhythmical time as a basis for form generation may be 
explored and tested. In this case, the research would 
include investigations into the movements of the sun and 
time descriptors of the natural and built environment 
and would explore the relationship of these criteria to 
the generation and evaluation of designed form. The 
value of this work is potentially significant; it may result in 
new criteria for urban and building design, or increased 
comfort, choice, performance and satisfaction, but the 
original objective is the generation of new knowledge 
about relationships, cyclic time, aesthetic theory and 

Another example, may be a project investigating the 
concept of "minimum inventory/maximum-diversity" sys- 
tems, starting with observations from nature (all 
snowflakes are regular hexagons, but none are alike) as 
a basis for design theory and the systematic generation 
of new forms. 

Frequently the evaluation of such projects must be 
qualitative as well as quantitative. By definition, the ideas 
being researched are in the exploratory stage. But the 
research proposal can be evaluated on the basis of the 


elegance of the ideas and the systematic nature of the 

However qualitative the subject of the research (and, in 
some cases it may be highly precise and quantitative), 
the research design itself must include the capability of 
objective evaluation and replicability; as research it must 
withstand evaluation of method, proof and result.